Friday, July 29, 2016

Renewing a Travel Lifestyle

Normally, when a person embarks on a big project, they shouldn't expect an instant pay-off. Surprisingly I am getting one on this "camping without the internet" project I am embarked on.

For years I have driven by some land on the west side of Colorado's San Luis valley that I fluttered my eyelashes at. But I never camped there because there was no internet signal. This year I stopped.

Since my camera broke recently, I can't show a photograph of the land. Perhaps it wouldn't be that impressive in a postcard. But who cares? It starts off as high rolling (BLM) pastures. Wave after wave of ascending green curves. Mountain biking up through it reminded me of some of Wagner's orchestral overtures, back in the day when I was first exposed to them.

It was a big deal when I reached the first tree. The boundary between forest and sagebrush/grasslands was irregular and indented, like an interesting shoreline with many bays and islands.

The topology changed. My heart sank, thinking that from now on I would have to settle for ugly ol' trees. But then a new and higher meadow would appear. It felt like a child who is exploring a large, old Victorian mansion, and is amazed to find yet another room that is different than the last room.

Push, push, is easy to block everything else out of your mind when ascending. In this case, I wasn't paying any attention to junctions with other dirt roads. Therefore I got off-course on the descent. Finally I popped out of the trees and saw the van down by the highway, only about a mile off course. I walked the bike so it wouldn't make a rut. It is strange how you lose visibility in small waves of green. The rest of the world pulls away from you; you are swallowed up by the land, the way a sea kayaker is, by small waves in the ocean.

As enjoyable as this experience was, its real significance is the helpful analogy it offered. I am in the habit of reading a book with the mindset of a mountain biker on a tough climb: it is all teeth-gritting determination. And I won't relax until I summit.

That is how the internet sinks its hooks into me: it offers bite-sized snacks to read. From now on, when reading books, I will be light-hearted about it, looking for every possible excuse to interrupt the concentration. It is time to stop reading a book like a student doing homework. Fight fire with fire. Getting an internet signal will not be so important anymore, and my camping lifestyle will get a new lease on life.

Tuesday, July 26, 2016

Withdrawing From "Fellow" RV Travelers

An old man in a van is camped a few hundred yards from me. He hasn't come over to visit. I haven't tried to visit him. That seems a little defeatist, considering that I might have visited with him when we overlapped on a road a couple days ago, and he appeared lucid and non-senile. (Which is better than average, let me tell you...)

This is just one example of a more general trend I seem to be settling into: a withdrawal from "fellow" RVers. I'm not really sure I am doing the right thing. It's not a hard-core, cynical attitude. It's more a matter of being tired of disappointment and frustration. The path of least resistance seems to be minding my own business.

Thinking back over the years of ineffectiveness at this issue, it seems that most encounters had something in common: we only had something in common, superficially. In fact they were pursuing a completely different paradigm than me. There is nothing wrong with their paradigms, if it works for them. I just have no interest in them.

1. The old man in a van. Mildred died of cancer a couple years ago. He is lonely, and spends most of his time watching satellite television and drinking. Or he hasn't been the same fellow since he got back from Viet Nam. Or he is living on nothing but social security and camps in the forest because that is all he can afford. Or he and Mildred got divorced 20 years ago, and he is virtually estranged from his own children. He is angry and flares up, almost scaring other people, when certain topics are brought up.

2. The eager newbie, driving 300 miles per day, hitting his RV Dream like it's a July scenery vacation. Then Fred and Mildred blog about the pretty lake, pretty mountain, pretty seashore... Pioneer museum, tour of a candy or cheese factory, or wildlife museum, that they are gawking at TODAY.

3. Singles clubs. In principle these could be quite helpful if people were there because being single does involve some unique challenges and opportunities. But if it is just a thinly-disguised Lonely Hearts club...

4. RV brand affinity clubs. Well, there is a certain practical value to these. But really (!), to define yourself by brand fanboy-ism shows you are the ultimate jackass of a consumer society.

5. "Frugal" RVers, who can't write more than a sentence or two without invoking the codeword, 'stealth.'

6. The perpetual wannabee. Fantasizing about becoming an RVer "someday" has become a pleasant, long-term hobby for them. They'll never do anything of course.

7. Hikers, Greens, Subaru-drivers, national park-loving, dog-hating, postcard-worshippers.

8. Channel surfing with gasoline. Getting bored with a place before the engine has even had time to cool off.

9. "How to" travel bloggers, blabber-mouthing boondocking locations, or obsessing over "practical" problems, with each one leading to today's click-bait. 

10. People who visualize Nature as it appears from their cubicle in the metropolitan rat-race, or from a coffee table book, rather than as it actually is.

Must I repeat that there is nothing wrong with these approaches?! It only makes sense to wish them luck with their chosen paradigms. But I'm just not interested.

Of course we shouldn't just have an interest in people who are clones of ourselves. But a certain amount of overlap is necessary. I think it is the basic paradigm of travel that needs to be the same. Not the details. 

No doubt there are readers who are going to say that I'm being cranky again. Actually I am just thinking out loud, and am trying to convince myself that it is "OK" to let a troublesome issue go.

Sunday, July 24, 2016

Visualizing a Book Correctly

It is a great project for a camper to wean themselves from an internet addiction. It is so strange the way you miss it most for the first day or two. When you finally debauch yourself by backsliding into Sin, you expect some huge rush of pleasure. Surprisingly you end up curling your lip and saying, "They're still talking about the same old crap. Why am I wasting my time?"

Why indeed? The benefits of cutting the daily cord are huge for a camper. They can choose so many more locations. The feeling of (soft) adventure comes back.

But 'fleeing vice is the beginning of virtue,' as the old Roman writer/poet, Horace, said. A camper has a lot of time on their hands. If you remove the internet, you have to add something else. Like what?

Books, let's say. I've never really been a good reader. I'm not referring to speed and comprehension. There has always been a problem with my... attitude. Actually it may have been lethargic visualization.

Let's take a brief digression before getting back to this issue.  This summer I have done a great job staying cool at high altitude. Several times I have camped next to the GDMBR, the Great Divide Mountain Bike Route. Once I was leaving camp and saw a tent and two bikes in a high pasture. I asked if they needed water. They didn't, but they invited me for tea. It was a father/daughter team from England. I accidentally bumped into them two more times on the GDMBR. We had a brief visit each time.

The daughter had a doughty attitude to her first bicycle tour: "We never look at the next section of the trail maps until we finish the current one!"

Why wouldn't that trick work with books? The sheer weight of the literary lumber is so off-putting. That is the psychological trick that the internet exploits: it screams, "Don't read that long-winded, mouldy ol' book. Read my headlines, my brief article, my sensational photos or video! The book and author are long dead, but my drivel happened 3.5 microseconds ago!" 

But why think about the book's 600 pages? Why not just think about the 10 page chapter? So thank you, Georgiana from England, for making me concentrate on this need.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

The Format (of the Medium) is the Message

After having two blockbuster successes with classic television, "The Rifleman" and the original "Star Trek", I was prepared to declare victory and move on. But then some clues on steered me in the direction of "The Virginian." How did I manage to miss this marvelous program when I was a kid? Actually it is probably because I was a kid. The Virginian had a 90 minute format -- too long for young kiddies.

Since I am watching the first two seasons, it was fun to see some of my favorite guest stars from "The Rifleman" reappear on "The Virginian." Similarly,  new guest stars on "The Virginian" reappeared 3-4 years later on "Star Trek."

The long format virtually makes the show a mini-movie. Superb guest stars, from the movies, would deign to appear on this television show: Betty Davis, George C. Scott, Robert Redford, Matthew Broderick, and even a young Ryan O'Neal, who looked about 17 years old.

In a longer show, the plot does not seem forced or contrived. There is time for false clues, so the ending is not completely predictable. The characters have room to travel a longer "arc." Aimed more at adults than kiddies, the characters show the incongruous collection of good and bad traits that makes human beings so interesting.

Better yet, the resolution of the story was not syrupy: it tended to offer the characters exoneration, a new but uncertain beginning in life, and partial redemption, rather than a perfect "buttoned up" happy ending.

The results of the longer format are so impressive that it makes one think about how the formats of other media genres affect their content and results. Take what you wish: 30 minute "Evening News", suburban sitcoms, office cubicle sitcoms, newspapers, blogs on the internet. With the latter, there are dire consequences to blogging too frequently, or reacting to the news of the moment. 

If the blog is just a thinly-disguised advertising platform, its integrity is compromised. It's not that people shouldn't try to monetize their blogs.  I want the internet to be part of the economy. But it leaves a bad taste in my mouth when I start to take a blogger seriously, and then catch myself with "Oh this is just the build-up to the next click-bait."

At any rate, thinking about the format of any medium is probably the first thing we should consider. The writers might be clever enough to put in some information of real value, despite the format, but the odds are not stacked in their favor.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

A Photographic Manifesto

Sure, it is bad news when you drop your digital camera with the zoom out, and kill it. But maybe the longer-term result can still be good. In the past I resisted rushing out to buy a new camera, and instead, took a vacation from dragging a camera along. The appetite will return after awhile.

Better yet, why not use the hiatus to reevaluate what you are trying to accomplish with a camera.  It is not as obvious as it first seems. It is a "nice" thing to have an excuse to pause on a mountain bike ride, and soak up an especially pretty little snack. 

These flowers caught my eye, the other day. The photo is mildly pretty, but I don't see what the viewer can get from this photo that they couldn't get from millions of other pretty photos already on the internet. And there will be more next year.

That prettiness is trivial and mostly useless does not make it EVIL. But it does mean the photographer hasn't gone as far as they could have. Notice that there is only one thing a little special about this photo: faint, not-so-pretty vegetation in the upper right corner. Its relationship to the three flowers suggests an idea. What do you think it is?

Perhaps the photographer should strive for a visual representation of an important idea about life. There is something tedious about verbosity that tries to express important ideas. It can easily devolve into a logomachy.  And there is something gratifying about metaphorical images and visual representations of that same idea. The miracle of condensation.

Whenever I am in the high country I look for a "vision" that always suggests something. Typically it appears far away, on a faint, ascending ridge-line. Many times the lighting is such that the single layer of trees seems to pull away from ridgeline as it climbs up to the sky. I always flutter my eyelashes at this sort of thing, but not because of trivial prettiness, but because it is a visual representation of one of the great issue in philosophy: the matter versus spirit conundrum.

A rationalist sees the word, spiritual, as a metaphysical fiction. But there is still a fetching idea in this second photograph: that matter alone doesn't explain everything. Surely a rationalist would not reduce the profession and art of architecture to so many tons of bricks and a certain number of sticks of lumber! It isn't just about "stuff." It is also about design and how the building functions for its users.

In physics there isn't just "mass." There is also motion and different types of energy.

In living creatures, there isn't just cells and tissue. If you would rather avoid the word, soul, then you must still admit the importance of the design/organization of the cells and tissue, their function, and interchanges of electrical and thermal energy.

I believe photography is a noble art if it seeks to provide visual representations of important ideas. Word-wranglers would be wise (and kind to the readers) if they integrated such photographs into their monstrously tedious verbiage. The viewer/reader would be helped by putting the visual representation right next to the verbal representation of the idea. Perhaps a short title should be given to the photograph, but it shouldn't turn into a long-winded caption. The readers' minds need to make the connection.

Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Nature Lovers and Long Dead Philosophers

If there ever were a time to invoke the old adage that 'practical men are just the slaves of some long-dead philosopher,' the time is now, after I've just read one of the most important (and juicy) books in years. The book is "Rousseau and Romanticism," by Irving Babbitt.

Only a chapter or two is about Rousseau's effect on how his followers perceived nature. But it is the chance in front of my face, especially during summer camping holidays. It seemed that my neighbors belonged to three tribes of "nature lovers."

Tribe #1. A couple women were car camping close to me. I complimented them on the sunniness of the campsite they chose. The car was a Subaru. (eyes rolling.) One of them had flown down from Oregon for the holiday.

Unfortunately many of the nearby spruce trees were dead, a la Colorado. I probably shouldn't have pointed that out. She ignored my un-compliment of the forest, and said that the trees were "beautiful." Really? Do you think she meant that, or was it just something that she was supposed to say? I have a hard time calling pine/spruce/fir forests beautiful even if they are healthy, and they ain't.

Sacred Solitude in the forest primeval. Breathtakingly beautiful, ain't it? Can't you just see Rousseau, Wordsworth, and Thoreau fluttering their eyelashes on solitary walks in this useless wasteland?
They went on a hike on the nearby Continental Divide Trail. It intersected with the dirt roads I was mountain biking on. The trail was overgrown, muddy, and presumably buggy.

It only takes a codeword or two to place somebody. The hiker-woman referred to tree-less areas at high altitude as "meadows." She was probably thinking the same thing about me, as I called them "pastures."

Hiking deserves high praise as a cool weather sport, but it surprises me to see its popularity in summer.

Although Rousseau and his spin-off praised "communing with nature" by taking long, solitary walks, it is a credit to the common sense of many modern hikers that they hike in clubs. It proves that they haven't been completely taken in by Rousseau's junk science: of Man living in solitude in harmony with nature... 

Only a philosopher could come up with an idea that devoid of common sense. And yet many people have gotten suckered into his mistake. Many RVers have.

Tribe #2: ATVers, generator people, gun enthusiasts. A large group of this animal species was camped  near to me. They were even more convivial and sociable than Tribe #1. It was easy to admire them for that, and not feel sore about them coming into my campsite and driving me out.

Sharing food and campfires was a big part of their fun. Unlike Tribe #1, they were non-ideological, non-food-faddish omnivores, who ate the food groups that most human animals have always eaten. Therefore they were able to eat the same food as each other, and enjoy each other's company.

Approaching sunset one evening, the forest seemed to erupt with engine noise. It actually startled me. As it turns out, they were getting excited anticipating the fireworks that night.

But I visualized excitement in another milieu, but having the same structure: primitive tribalists going through the ritual of slowly torturing prisoners from a nearby tribe. As they moved towards evening, the psychotropic drugs, food, campfire, and wild dancing  caused the excitement to rise to a new level. The grand climax finally came when the sun fell, and they dragged the prisoners forward to be impaled, or maybe, thown alive into the fire.

Despite the image of Tribe #1 being "green", I think Tribe #2 is "living in harmony with nature" better than Tribe #1.

Tribe #3: I saw a fellow with a horse and mule over by himself, or with his family, actually. I snapped my dog on her leash, and invited myself over to his camp. He walked out with his mule and started talking. That mule ate grass noisily and continuously the entire time. As it turns out, he was an agriculture teacher in a high school, back in Arkansas. He talked about his ride up to the high pastures that we could see from his campsite.

I asked him to teach me something about mules. That was easy, because I know so little. He explained that they had a simple stomach, unlike a cow. I still don't understand how the bio-chemical engineering in a simple stomach can turn grass into animal tissue.

I was sighing with relaxed pleasure as he kept talking. I didn't feel estranged from Tribe #3, as with the other two tribes. A historian might put this fellow (and me!) in the classicist and humanist camp.

The examples I gave today are just illustrations, applications if you will, of the great issues of classicism versus romanticism, as discussed in Babbitt's book. I like to apply the ideas of a book, rather than regurgitate them.

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Beating the "Always On" Inverter Syndrome

In order to camp away from electrical "shore" power, one need not be a Gandhi or Thoreau wannabee. In fact I rarely think about after-market "boondocking" equipment or most sections of "how to" forums; and I avoid obsessive modifications to my camper trailer.

It is only when a real problem shows up, that I go on the war-path. When a leaf spring broke recently on my trailer, weight-reduction became my 'Cause.'  The most immediate and large weight-reduction was to downsize the 6-volt (golf cart) batteries from four to two.

One project has been to break the habit of leaving the DC-to-AC inverter "On" 24 hours per day. (I use DVDs as sleeping pills at night.) Although I have an inverter that has a low "idle" power draw, this parasitic draw still totals up to 10 Amp-hours over a 24 hour period. One could argue that this is small compared to the nominal capacity of the battery pair (235 Amp-hours.)

Still, this is my current project, and it is fun. Consider how crazy the voltage situation is, in an RV: every electronic gadget comes with a "power adapter module", that is, a big black brick that weighs as much as the gadget itself. After plugging in two or three of these monstrosities into the usual outlet strip, you are out of plugs.

"Easy," you say. "Just google 12 volt DC gadgets or appliances." Not so fast! That just pulls up specialized, over-priced "12 volt" gadgets and appliances that are sold to truckers. A shrewd consumer prefers to buy mass-produced "AC" gadgets, at the usual big boxes or websites. But if you do that, you have to waste energy with your inverter!, which is what we our trying to get away from.

But wait...all the black power brick does is convert 110 volts AC back into 12 volts DC, or some other DC voltage. This latter voltage is what is coming down the power cord, into your gadget. Therefore an RVer can just cut the power cord, throw the brick away, and wire your gadget directly into the 12 volt DC system of the RV.

Part of my graveyard of unnecessary power bricks, now that I've become a DC purist.
It's funny. I saw somebody on a "practical" forum say, "all the televisions available only run on AC." But that just isn't true. They run on DC because that is what comes out of the black power brick. I guess the poster never looked at the label on the dozen black power bricks that he already owns.

Unfortunately not all black power bricks put out 12 Volts DC  -- they might put out 19 Volts DC like the laptop I am typing on. I presume that large televisions use more than 12 Volts DC; but why would a serious camper need a large television? My effort here is at helping the redeemable -- not hopeless sybarites, who debauch themselves with 54" diagonal televisions. My 13 inch television uses 12 Volts DC.

Some gadgets such as cameras, cellphones, or MP3 players, use 5 Volts DC. It is supplied through a standard USB cable and connector, and plugged into your laptop. But you can just as easily plug that USB into an adapter that plugs into a standard 12 Volt DC "cigarette socket." (These can be bought everywhere.) Therefore you can charge any of these 5 Volt DC gadgets without running your computer or an energy-wasting inverter.

Another reason to turn OFF the inverter or laptop: several devices (MP3, cellphone, Wilson Boost, and camera) are powered by 5 Volts DC through a standard USB cable. You can buy an inexpensive adapter that converts 12 Volts DC from a standard cigarette plug down to 5 Volts Dc.

I was delighted to read the power bricks on my blue-ray player and external computer speakers (for music): they too put out 12 Volts DC to power these gadgets. These gadgets and the television are using the energy that I am prone to wasting at night.

Result: I hardly need to run an inverter, especially at night when it really counts. If you want to give your inverter a rest at night, buy gadgets whose AC black power bricks put out 12 Volts DC. They are always labelled. Snip the brick off, and throw it away.

Notice I have said nothing about gadgets made by Apple. I just assume that with the rest of the industry using 5 or 12 Volts DC, Apple uses 3.87 Volts DC, or something deliberately incompatible with the rest of the industry. But like the commercial says, Apple makes such cooooooool adapters, dude...

Besides all this practical trivia, consider the philosophical appeal of no longer converting your DC battery voltage to AC via the inverter, wasting energy, and then using a black power cube brick to convert the AC back to DC, and wasting more energy. 

If this gives you some satisfaction, maybe you have just learned something about one of your past lives: perhaps you were a federal surveyor who laid out the Northwest Territories along regular geometrical Cartesian lines. Or maybe you wangled your way onto the French committee that designed the metric system, during the early days of the Revolution.

Addendum: OK I got my new "laptop DC power adapter" to charge my 19 Volt DC laptop. Sometimes "laptop car charger" might work when doing internet searches. Its input is a cigarette style automotive plug that plugs into the matching female socket, which you can buy at any auto parts store.

Its output is 19 Volts DC, as required by my laptop. And there is the right connector that fits the laptop. The DC power adapter came from .

The DC power adapter runs at slightly above room temperature. I don't actually know that it is more efficient than an AC power adapter (black power brick) that plugs into household AC wall outlets.

But the overall efficiency should be better with this DC approach since it allows the DC-AC inverter to be turned off most of the time.

Well, that does it. I have achieved electrical perfection in my camper-trailer.    

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Metaphors with a Life of Their Own

Hopefully I will continue to do certain things right on this blog: not over-selling travel, and not over-emphasizing books. Carried to extreme, both of these things are more than merely ridiculous. They are vices.

But combine two things that don't appear to be all that related, and some magic happens. Maybe that is what thinking is all about. When travel and books are combined, some memorable pleasure can happen. It won't happen often.

'Be careful what you wish for...' is an old adage that must be in many people's Top Ten list. During the fire season in late May and June in the Southwest, I yearn almost obsessively for higher humidity, clouds, and rain. Well, we got some all right. Over the holiday weekend I spent a day or two holed up in my little camper-trailer, unable to do much of anything outdoors. Actually, what is there to do indoors, other than read books? (I had no internet connection.)

The good news is that I had an awfully good book to read; it was turning out to be fascinating, and on an important topic, too. Still, hour after hour in a chair, and with so little sunlight that I doubted whether the solar panels would charge the batteries. (I only have two small windows and a roof vent.)

Who was the writer who said, "...sicklied over, by the pale cast of thought"? Something seems wrong with the universe when sun doesn't shine -- at this time of the year, in this part of world. At moments the rectangle of soggy, half-hearted light hitting my kitchen counter would brighten. Usually, the edge of this anti-shadow would crispen. It seemed to almost crackle with fire. I would jump away from the book, and run to my solar controller to see what amperage appeared.

Why was it so important to see a number? But it was! And then the crisp rectangle would melt into near nothingness, and Hope sank back into the cold mud. On and on this went. Would I see a high amperage only when the edge of the rectangle was crisp, or would the overall brightness of the rectangle of light matter more? I got sucked into being obsessively observant of the number of amps versus the visual and emotional impression of it.

Then it hit me: that I was acting out in my camping-life, exactly what the book was about. The book was "Rousseau and Romanticism," by Irving Babbitt. (free ebook at The author spent quite a bit of time explaining the conflict between the Romanticist and the humanistic Classicist. Since it was a busy holiday weekend, there were opportunities to observe real people and wonder how they and their style fit into this book. More of that later, perhaps.

For the time being, I can only gush how charming it is to have a metaphor creep up on you like this. Normally you think of a metaphor as being deliberately created by the writer. But when the self-consciousness disappears, and the metaphor comes in from the outside and imposes itself on you, it seems so much more alive and exciting.

Sunday, July 3, 2016

Being a Cool Professional Camper over the Fourth

I hope the reader hasn't wasted a great deal of time reading certain cliché topics, such as 'Should a camper have a gun?' On and on this sort of discussion goes. What's the point?

It is obvious that owning a gun is "negative safety" for a camper. It is too likely to put you into the state penitentiary as your final campsite.  Just consider what it is like to camp on public lands over the Fourth of July weekend.

I chose a new area for me. The road didn't look busy. The campsite looked non-flat and not terribly desirable to other campers. So I pulled in. An hour later a giant fifth-wheel pulled right in to my site -- without being invited. Then they ran their generator until 10 pm.

My first reaction was anger. But wait a I not always preaching that being a full-time RVer is a profession -- not a vacation? Do you know of any job that doesn't give you assholes to deal with? So why not act more professional? At least that is what I preached to myself.

The next morning I went prospecting, and with a real sense of purpose. I found a road and campsite that would not appeal to large rigs. Indeed, you can escape other rigs if yours is smaller and has higher clearance. 

The first rig of intruders was joined by six other rigs. They probably thought I was the asshole for being in the campsite that they used last year and had "first dibs" on, this year.  In truth, I liked the second campsite better than the first, so being a cool professional paid off.

But you can't escape the motorsports crowd on the Fourth of July weekend, no matter how rough your road is. Once again, there is a chance to act like a cool professional instead of a hothead. There weren't so many noisy machines going by. How many seconds of annoyance does it really total up to, over 24 X 60 X 60 seconds in a day? ATVs are quieter than they used to be. Many of the ATVers are friendly people that I smile, wave, and chat with.

And look at the bright side: each of those machines has room for a 300 Watt loudspeaker on the front and back. It could be blaring out hilbilly rap music. Boom cars for the sticks.  Frankly, it surprises me that that trend hasn't gotten established...yet.